My nightmares usually fall into these three groups: I’m late for class and don’t have what I need when I get there, I’m running from a large animal, or I’m delivering the newspaper. The actual paper route I had for two different periods totaled about eight years, and it made an indelible mark on my psyche. Riding around on the wrong side of the road tossing objects into people’s driveways in the dark hours of the morning will do that to you.
For my sleep disorders – which I only vaguely understood at the time – it was probably the wrong routine.
I have never feared doing a little extra work to help out my family. But sometimes I have wondered if that work is worth the time being traded for dollars, or worth the toll on my mind and body. I wrote last week about doing the math – between the gas, the wear and tear, the loss of sleep, and a few other expenses – I finally hung it up. Now when I wake up after dreaming that I was delivering the paper, it is a huge relief to realize it is just a dream.
Each carrier was an independent contractor. If I needed a day off, I needed to find, train and pay my own substitute carrier. So planning was key if I needed a vacation. The pressure of having the constant daily responsibility is formidable. If I was sick, I usually had to get the paper out anyway.
But most of my memories are built around the strange experiences that piled up over the years of this challenging part-time job.
First, I had to keep the car windows open to toss the papers. Most months of the year, it was not a problem. Winters were rough, but at least the cold air was keeping me awake. I distinctly remember 22 degrees on the car display one morning, and I was having trouble with the heat in an old Buick Roadmaster. Finishing the route and getting to close the window was a great relief on those cold mornings.
Temperature was not the only hazard of having the window open so often. Once, a bird got into my car and couldn’t seem to find his way out. It seemed like a long time, but probably lasted all of 30 seconds. He didn’t really attack me, but he wasn’t happy. We both finally went our separate ways.
One morning, I woke and realized I had left my contact lenses in my eyes the night before. This made my eyes extremely sensitive to light. I couldn’t finish the route that day by myself. I had to wake up my wife and my older son to do the driving and the tossing, while I gave directions.
I was usually the only one awake in a neighborhood, so to see anyone was usually momentarily jarring. I can remember customers waiting for their papers. I remember being stopped by several police officers – who usually let me move on once they realized what I was doing. One college patrol chief was pretty shaken by seeing me on the wrong side of the road, so he spent some extra time – very far from the campus of his jurisdiction – reading me the riot act. I didn’t give him a hard time in return. My father was a state trooper; I have always tried to give police officers plenty of respect.
I did get to listen to a lot of sports radio. I found two local stations that aired nationwide broadcasts before 6 am. At that hour of the morning, they are usually more about entertainment than pure sports news, so I rarely got bored. If I was tired of sports, I could listen to an audio book, news or something inspirational.
The fondest memories include Sundays – that’s when I enlisted my sons to help me get the paper out. Most of the carriers out of my distribution center would come on Saturday afternoon to group together the three parts of Sunday’s massive edition that were printed early, and they would add the main section on Sunday morning. With my helpers, we didn’t need to waste a Saturday afternoon; we could get all the sections bagged and in my vehicle in about an hour on Sunday mornings. We would load the boys in the van where they could lay down on top of that great cushion of bagged papers, taking a break while I delivered the first three quarters of the route. Later when we got to a set of apartments, or condos, they would run papers to doors with me. It was fun working with my sons, coaching them in the areas of hustle, accuracy, and customer service. Getting a treat with them in the middle of the route. Laughing and joking around. Sharing life lessons and having some guy time. They got to make a few bucks, and I think they grew through the experience. And I’m sure they learned that paper delivery was not their future.
But all the pressure of waking up 3 hours earlier every day added to a time sensitive obstacle course was exhausting. I’m glad for those experiences, but I could live without the residual occasional nightmare.
Using an automatic transmission vehicle most years to deliver, I did get the job done with a stick shift for about a year. It was challenging but kept me engaged in a unique way. I don’t want to put the Mini through that kind of abuse. My body and my mind don’t miss it either. Many of the other carriers I met were retired from other full-time work; I’m hoping I can keep shiftin’ and keep bloggin’ instead!